Idaho governor warns of worst wildfire season in years

BOISE, Idaho — With smoke wafting across the sky above him, Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday implored Idahoans to help minimize wildfires during a press conference at Boise’s National Interagency Fire Center. He asked the public to limit outdoor activities that could spark a fire.

“Idaho entered the fire season prepared as we always are — with additional investments in the Idaho Department of Lands fire program — but Idaho will only get through this fire season if we all do our part not to unintentionally start fires,” Little said.

“Idaho has been fortunate in recent years to avoid the devastating kind of fire seasons other states have faced, but this year could be different.”

He was joined by state and federal fire managers who echoed Little’s sentiments that firefighters need the public’s help.

The Idaho Department of Lands has responded to 202 fires across 10 districts. Josh Harvey, fire management chief of the Idaho Department of Lands, said he expects that number will go up as more accurate data comes in.

“We are seeing unprecedented wildfire conditions in Idaho right now with no relief from extremely hot, dry conditions in the forecast,” Idaho Department of Lands Director Dustin Miller said.

“The biggest issue we face right now is extremely limited resources to manage these fires, including a lack of aircraft and crews on the ground. We typically tap into our shared resources during these times, but they have very limited availability due to fires in our neighboring states. The public can help by avoiding any outdoor activity that could spark a human-caused fire.”

Currently, parts of Idaho are under Stage I and Stage II fire restrictions. The press conference came on the heels of an emergency declaration that Little issued Friday at the urging of the Department of Lands — the first time the department has made such a request. Miller said one of his biggest concerns is the dwindling resources as large numbers of fires in drought-stricken California, Oregon and the West consume fire crews.

“Multiple fires following an early July lightning event have contributed to a significant shortage of fire suppression resources across the region,” Miller said.

Of the $30 million budgeted by the Idaho Legislature to go to firefighting efforts this year, Little said about $15 million remains.

The declaration he made allowed Little to mobilize Idaho National Guard firefighters, aircraft and resources to assist firefighting efforts in other parts of the state. Roughly a dozen fires are burning in North and Central Idaho, trapping smoke in Idaho valleys, the Idaho Statesman reported Monday.

Treasure Valley residents need only look out their windows for evidence of the massive amount of regional fires. On Tuesday, air quality in Ada and Canyon counties was in the “moderate,” or yellow category, the second-lowest of six categories.

Air quality in Ketchum and McCall was in the orange category (unhealthy for sensitive groups), while Salmon and Lewiston were in the red category (unhealthy), according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

“I didn’t actually ask for the smoke today to get our point across,” Little joked at his press conference.

Most of the smoke across the Treasure Valley and Southern Idaho is coming from the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon and a complex of fires in California. The Bootleg Fire had emcompassed almost 202,000 acres as of Tuesday afternoon, according to InciWeb.

At more than 17,000 acres, the Dixie-Jumbo Fires in the Payette National Forest is the largest complex in Idaho right now.